We evaluated G-proteins that are components of adenylyl cyclase (AC) signal transduction in erythrocyte and lymphocyte membranes from 26 family history positive (FHP) non-alcoholic and 26 family history negative (FHN) nonalcoholic subjects. Subjects were classified as FHP if their father met criteria for alcohol dependence; as FHN, if there was no history of alcoholism in any first or second degree relatives. Immunoblot analysis indicated that levels of erythrocyte membrane Gs alpha from FHP subjects were greater than levels in FHN subjects (171 +/- 11 vs 100 +/- 6, P < 0.001). To confirm the results of the immunoblot analysis, Gs alpha was quantitated by cholera toxin-dependent [32P]ADP-ribosylation. Levels of erythrocyte [32P]ADP-ribose-Gs alpha from FHP subjects were greater than levels in FHN subjects (236 +/- 28 vs 100 +/- 14, P < 0.001). Gs alpha levels did not correlate with age or alcohol consumption. By contrast to differences in Gs alpha, immunoblot analysis showed similar levels of Gi(2)alpha and Gi(3)alpha in erythrocyte membranes of FHP and FHN subjects. Pertussis toxin-catalyzed [32P]ADP-ribosylation of Gi-like G-proteins confirmed the immunoblot observations. Lastly, compared to FHN subjects, FHP subjects had enhanced Gs alpha expression in lymphocyte membranes as well (138 +/- 11 vs 100 +/- 5.5; P < 0.02). In summary, compared to FHN nonalcoholic men, FHP nonalcoholic men had greater levels of the stimulatory G-protein, Gs alpha, in erythrocyte and lymphocyte membranes. Enhanced expression of Gs alpha may be a marker of increased risk for the future development of alcoholism.